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Lawyers spar over failure to build a marina

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    Attorney Terrance Revere said homeowners had been promised a marina, not a lagoon, by the developer.

Lawyers representing Ewa Beach homeowners and the developer they sued disagreed in court Wednesday over the move to develop a recreational lagoon instead of a marina in the Ocean Pointe and Hoakalei area.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in July 2013 by nine homeowners — including state Rep. Matt LoPresti, who purchased properties in the area before 2012 — claims that the switch to a lagoon between Oneula Beach Park and White Plains Beach lowered property values and that residents have been paying association dues for the maintenance of a marina.

“Thousands of people were misled,” LoPresti (D, Ewa Villages-Ocean Pointe-Ewa Beach) said Wednesday outside a Circuit Court session for closing arguments of the nearly two-month trial. “No amount of money will be able to give people back the dream of their first home or their last home or the home and community in which they wanted to raise their family. This is about trying to approximate justice as best we can.”

Homeowners’ claims include negligent misrepresentation, breach of implied duty of good faith, and consumer protection issues. They are seeking compensation and damages, including $38,000 per home for thousands of residents, as well as other punitive damages.

A jury verdict is expected at a later date.

Haseko announced plans in November 2011 to develop a recreational lagoon instead of a marina, which was under construction for several years, on its 1,100-acre Ewa Beach site. The marina was proposed to host 1,600 boat slips and an ocean outlet, and was dubbed “the largest in the state ” that “will help satisfy the unmet demand for berthing facilities on Oahu,” according to the Land Use Commission in 1990.

The developer said the change was due to issues raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the disposal of materials during the excavation process to build an ocean outlet, problems during the permitting process, and a lack of hotel interest to build next to a marina.

“We think that it (the lagoon) was a good idea. We still think it is a good idea,” Sharene Saito Tam, Haseko’s vice president, said Wednesday outside the court session. “More people can use this because you don’t have to be a boater.”

To develop the last phase of the project, Haseko will need to win approval from the City Council for a rezoning request, which passed first reading Wednesday. At the City Council meeting, two Ewa Beach residents testified in favor of a lagoon over a marina. Haseko will also need a separate special management area use permit and shoreline setback variance.

During Wednesday’s closing arguments in Circuit Court, Haseko’s lawyer, Steven Chung, argued that the marina plan was subject to change, saying that once the switch was made, sales staff were instructed to contact those in escrow and ask whether they wanted to cancel their contracts. Chung said none did, adding that there has been “no impact on the value of any of their homes.”

“People bought homes in Ocean Pointe because they loved the quality of the home. They loved the neighborhood,” Chung said. “What message do you want to send to this developer and all the other developers in the nation — that if you try your best and you run into an obstacle that you can’t overcome, and you have to make a change … we’re going to punish you?”

But the homeowners’ attorney, Terrance Revere, argued that Haseko misled residents into believing that the marina would be “the focal point and the centerpiece of the project.” He added that the switch diminished the value of homeowners’ properties and violated public policy.

“Homeowners were promised a world-class marina. They were told that over and over and over again,” Revere said. “We think it’s really important to send a message nationwide to developers: ‘You cannot do this.’”

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